Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Celebration on Ice - Owen Sound & Newmarket, ON - Dec. 19 & 20, 2010

written by Tina

I had the opportunity to attend both the Owen Sound and Newmarket stops of the 6-city Celebration on Ice tour, so this will be a joint review of both shows. These were the fourth and fifth stops on tour, when the skaters had already been performing for 3 days straight and bussing between each city overnight. Given how exhausting the schedule must have been, I was really impressed by how the skaters didn't give any sign of weariness, and really brought it each show. Celebration on Ice also gives local skaters a chance to shine, so the show is an interesting opportunity to see some of Canada's best skaters alongside some of its young talent.

The show opened with music playing over the dimly lit ice, with patterns of stars and lights playing over the ice. In Owen Sound, one young girl came out holding a lit candle, while in Newmarket a trio of small children were the candle-bearers. The young skater stood at center ice while "Silent Night" played, and one by one, the skaters each came out and "lit" their own (electric) candles. The skaters then skated around the candle-bearer(s) before Joannie Rochette, the last skater introduced, led the child off the ice and most of the skaters left the ice.

The music then picked up and the lights came up for a jaunting opening number to "Santa Claus is Coming To Town". This ensemble was very playful, with the female skaters dressed in light colored sweaters and leggings and the guys in casual buttoned shirts. There were various playfully flirtatious transitions between skaters, like Cynthia pulling Pete Dack along by the scarf, or Violetta planting a playful kiss on Jeff's cheek before Pete pulled her away. It was a fun, light-hearted way to get things going.

After the opening number, the first of the local talent performed. In general, the skaters in Owen Sound seemed younger than the ones in Newmarket, who were older, more polished, and seemed to have more competitive experience. I have a lot of admiration for these kids, stepping out in the spotlights in front of a fairly sizable crowd (even if the crowd seemed to be largely consisting of friends and family of the local skaters, who cheered them on loudly). I unfortunately didn't write down the music in Owen Sound, so I don't remember what Laurissa Christie skated to. In Newmarket, the first skater skated to "All I Want For Christmas Is You", and she did a really nice job presenting the number with a real performer's flair (there was a program for Owen Sound so I know the names of the skaters there, but not for Newmarket, unfortunately).

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moskovitch took to the ice next to perform a lovely program to "Believe" (I believe - that's my conclusion from the lyrics, anyway). Kirsten and Dylan lack the polish of a Jamie and David, and at times their lifts freaked me out just a little, because they went into them so fast and the positions seemed somewhat precarious, but they've got that Canadian showman's touch, and were enjoyable to watch. They also did what seemed to be a triple? twist in the opening and both numbers, which was quite cool.

Jeff Buttle's holiday number was a different version (from the opening) of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town", a number that very much suited his beaming grin and fast choreography. Jeff's smile just reaches out and invites the audience to have as much fun as he's having, and his feet just never stop moving. He's just so much fun to watch, and clearly enjoys himself on the ice.

Violetta Afanasieva & Pete Dack's first number opened with Pete seemingly alone on the ice with a regular-sized wrapped present in his hand (although a mysteriously self-propelled very large red-cloth covered "gift" had followed him onto the ice and stood in the dark partway across the ice). He sat glumly on the ice, regarding his present, then got up and started skating around, shaking the present and seeming to be about to offer to toss it into the crowd. Then he noticed the giant red box, happily tossed away the smaller box, and went to pull the cover off of what turned out to be a cube comprised of silver tubes, with Violetta waiting inside, to his delight. The music cranked up and became "Baby Please Come Home," a number they performed with aplomb. This number featured a bit less of their acrobatic tricks, except one section where Pete spun the cube rapidly around himself as it shone and winked in the spotlights, and the ending. This featured Violetta and Pete's unique move, where she hangs by a black band around the base of her head, which is attached to a band around *his* neck, and propelled by the momentum of him spinning around, starts spinning and twisting in midair. That description makes no sense, but it's quite impressive.

At this point in the show, the second local act performed. In Owen Sound, this was a cute young girl, Grace Alvarez, who seemed a bit more advanced than the first skater. In Newmarket, this was Andrei Rogozine, the 2009 Junior Men's Champion. Andre is clearly a skater with a lot of potential who moves with a lot of security and flair on the ice and has quite a technical arsenal - a really developed competitive skater. He might have been nervous for the show, though, because though he skated beautifully, the performance aspect was a bit lacking. He seemed to be very intent, rather than enjoying himself. It was still neat to see him perform, though.

Cynthia Phaneuf's holiday number was to music I couldn't quite put my finger on. It opened with the strains of Ave Maria, but then became a more wistful modern song with the singer addressing a lover, saying "you are my last, my first...", etc, but then occasionally breaking into "Ave Maria". It was quite lovely, but I have no idea what it was. Her program was solemn and evoked a bit of a sense of longing that fit the music really nicely. A very pretty number, and one that contrasted quite nicely with her second program later in the evening.

Kurt Browning came next, skating a version of "River" recorded by his good friend Geoffrey Tyler, whose voice would be heard again later in the show singing Kurt's second program as well. This is a beautiful little program that really evokes the sense of wistfulness and the sense of freedom in skating on a river embodied in the song. It being a Kurt program, there were also moments of playfulness, as in his interpretation of the lyrics "she loved me so naughty, it made me weak at the knees" (with wobbling knees and a naughty grin on his face). In Owen Sound, Kurt struggled quite a bit with his jumps due to issues with his skates, to his obvious frustration, doubling his sal and popping a couple axels. This changed the feel of the program a bit since Kurt didn't really try to hide his disbelief and frustration at the succession of popped jumps, but Kurt being Kurt, made the audience feel a part of what was going on, and amused them by crossing himself before going for a finally successful double axel, and then, after the bows, going back and throwing in a triple sal just to prove he could do it. With his self-deprecating humor, and his inclusive style, he just wins the (already sympathetic) crowd over, even when he's making mistakes. In Newmarket, he redeemed himself with a cleaner skate that was lovely in the way it was originally intended to be.

Jamie Sale & David Pelletier's "Run Rudolph" livened things up quite a bit with this fast, fun, upbeat program. This number was just pure fun, with Jamie and David dancing it up and really drawing the audience in to clap along with them and have as much as they were. Jamie's really the queen of riding high in the lifts while continuing to engage with the audience, making eye contact and grinning hugely. It also featured their trademark handstand lift, where Jamie does a handstand on David's arm (I still marvel at the strength and balance this takes), which always pleases the crowd.

One of my favorite holiday programs of the night was Joannie Rochette's "O Holy Night." It helps that it's probably one of my favorite Christmas songs, but Joannie performs it so beautifully and passionately. It's so smooth and flowing, covering the ice rapidly without a hint of effort, with gorgeous jumps coming out of nowhere in the middle of beautiful choreography. I just loved it.

In Owen Sound, Joannie's program ended the first act. In Newmarket, the local synchronized skating team, "Ice Energy" performed a medley of 80s songs, from "We Built This City" to "Eye of the Tiger" to "Don't Stop Believing". I find synchro a bit odd to watch - I recognize that it's quite difficult to skate in unison in such a large group, and to pull off all these moves in such close proximity to the other skaters. However, it's a bit freakily like watching a bunch of robots since the moves are so circumscribed and careful. I give the skaters kudos for their performance. It's just not my cup of tea.

After a 20 (or so) minute intermission, the second act picked up with an adorable number by the local CanSkate skaters to "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer". In Owen Sound, this was a collection of adorably self-possessed young skaters in green and red sweaters and figure skates, some with reindeer antlers on their heads, as well as three tiny boys in hockey skates who seemed barely able to skate making up "the band", with fake paper/foil instruments. In Newmarket, this was an even larger group of skaters who actually had a fairly intricately choreographed number that showcased and rotated around a young lady who I believe was the Niagara or Great Lakes region champion (or something like that), who also did some pairs moves with a skinny Santa as well as some spotlighted solo skating. Either way, it was very cute.

The real highlight of the second act though, and a special number unique to this show, was the "Champions" group number created by Brian Orser. This number revisited the most iconic programs of the four World and Olympic champions in the cast: Jeff Buttle, Jamie Sale & David Pelletier, Kurt Browning, and Joannie Rochette. In it, each skater came out in their original costumes (or costumes that evoked the original costumes in Kurt's and Jamie's cases) and performed somewhat abbreviated reprisals of their triumphant programs. Jeff Buttle skated his 2008 Worlds LP, the number that helped him win his World Championship. Skating his competitive routine again seemed to step up his already strong game - he seemed to go for the jumps with more determination and intensity and the performance itself was just intense and amazing to watch. Similarly, Jamie and David reprised "Love Story", their famous program from the 2002 Olympics, and they too brought that competitive intensity and careful choreographic nuance. Kurt's Casablanca came next, and it was truly wonderful to finally be able to see touches from this program live. Pretty much all the famous touches were there - the axel timed to a swell in the music (a triple in the original, a gorgeous double here), the sweeping leg in the air spirals, the cigarette moment and heel to toe walk... It's a bit too bad he wore a long white coat with a silver bow-tie instead of the original short fitted coat and black bow tie because it changed the look of the program a bit, but it was still awesome to watch. Joannie Rochette tied things up with an all-out performance of her 2010 Olympics LP. She just seemed to throw herself completely passionately in the program, performing it each time as if it *was* the Olympics and she had everything on the line. Overall, this number was just incredible to watch, especially since I never had the chance to see any of these programs live, so this felt like this was *my* opportunity to finally see these amazing historical programs (not to mention to get photos of them). So very awesome. Though Kurt did break the moment a bit very amusingly as he skated off at the end in Newmarket. While bowing with the other skaters, he made a gesture like he was writing on a pad to someone in the on-ice seats, and then as he skated off, yelled "Because I look like a waiter!" to the intense amusement of the people who could hear him.

The Champions number alone was, to me, worth the price of admission. But there was still a lot of great show to come. There was an interesting contrast and a tiny bit of a sense of a passing of the torch in the choice to have a program by a local skater in the spot immediately after the Champions number. In Owen Sound, I was quite impressed with the tango-esque program done by Jessica Reid. There seemed to be a real senes of connection to the music and attempt to really perform. In Newmarket, Morgan Littman did "So Much to Be Thankful For" and performed beautifully, really looking up and connecting with the audience, and taking care to finish her moves and perform each nuance of her choreography.

Violetta and Pete's second number was the Arabic? hula hoops number they performed in the Battle of the Blades finale. This number really spotlights Violetta - her flexibility, her amazing hula skills, her joy and love of performing and skating. The smile *never* leaves her face, and it's no hardened performer's smile. She just seems to love what she does. And the audience loves what she does. Keeping those hoops going while being held up in a lift with her leg high in the air, keeping the hoops going as Pete tosses one after another to her (and as she wriggles them up her body and tosses them back at him), keeping a whole slinky's worth of hoops going simultaneously...all while standing in skates on the ice. It's just incredible. And so fun to watch.

Kirsten and Dylan's second number I am going to guess is their take on the cheerleader characters played by Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri on SNL. Either that, or their interpretation of cheerleaders has the same over the top peppy absurdity that borders on the grating. At least for me, I could never stand those SNL cheerleader characters. The audience definitely went for their program though, and even I could appreciate the energetic silliness and fun of the choreography. The music ranged through a collection of songs you'd hear in a sports stadium (or in Bring It On), including a segment to "Hey Mickey" which got that song stuck in my head afterwards. They went all out in their performance, and it was an entertaining program.

Cynthia's second number was her "Barracuda" number from last year's Stars on Ice. This is a program that seems to just get stronger every time I see her perform it. Her commitment to the choreography, the sassy interaction with the audience, the strength of her body language... it's just so much fun. This is a number she seems to relish performing, which is always great to watch.

Jeff's second number, "Good Mother," was also from Stars on Ice, and it's possibly one of my favorite programs of his ever, as well as one of my favorite programs of both Stars on Ice and this show. It's just such a great combination of music and skater. Gorgeous song that is sentimental without being sappy, strong without being overpowering, contemplative without being overly introspective, and beautiful skater whose feet and body are so expressive. It's kind of like "O Holy Night", it's just got this flow over the ice that's so gorgeous to watch. I just love it.

Jamie and David's second number, "Try", I guess was also their Stars on Ice number, but I actually didn't recognize it. I think it might have been because they seemed to skate it with more connection and passion in Celebration on Ice than they did in Stars on Ice last year. It's a bit of a yearning, romantic number, slow and reaching and contemplative.

Joannie's tango-esque Shakira number, "Objection", came next. This number is just fun and sassy. Joannie seems too sweet to really do Shakira, but she certainly skates up a storm and really commits to the hip wiggles and dancing the number calls for. It's always fun to see this side of Joannie - she does lovely and smooth and graceful well, but she also can really perform and dance it up.

My absolute favorite program of the evening though, outside of the Champions number, was Kurt's "Steppin' Out Of My Mind". The number was conceived as a peek into Kurt's thoughts as he skated, with the soundtrack projecting his thoughts, unbeknownst to him, for everyone to hear. This is a number I think you'd have to see multiple times to really appreciate because there's a lot going on. First of all, there's the voiceover, a very Kurt-mix of self-deprecation, humor, doubt, and silliness. Then, there's the song itself, which was re-orchestrated for Kurt, with the lyrics adapted to his skating ("if I scintillate, it's because I've got to skate"..."steppin' out, with my skates on"). And last but not least, there's Kurt's actual skating itself which itself is fast, intricate, and rich. It's really easy to miss parts of the voiceover or the lyrics as you watch. You just get so caught up in his charming on-ice performance that you forget to listen! And what a performance. It starts fairly simply, with him mentally trying to psych himself up to skate, cursing the salchow, wondering if he left his cell phone in the hotel, even as he pulls off jumps and other moves. But then, as he commits himself more and more to his skate, and really appreciates how lucky he is, his performance becomes more expansive, and just projects out to every corner of the arena. The footwork gets faster and more intricate, the dancing gets bigger, and everything just builds. He acquires himself (via Violetta) a coat with tails, a hat, and a cane and at that point it's like the full performer is born and completely present on the ice. No more doubts and distractions in his head, just full out love of the performance and commitment to the audience. And I just have to reiterate again how awesome the footwork is. He just flies over the ice, feet moving faster than feet should be able to move, dancing lightly on his toes and edges with perfect balance. It's amazing and wonderful and it just makes me happy. So glad I'll be able to get to see this program again in Stars on Ice.

After such a high, it's a bit of a shame to see the show come to a close, but at the same time a perfect showstopper. The skaters transition into the finale with the girls all lobbing snowballs at Kurt as he leaves the ice. The closing was fun, with different combinations of skaters coming together to do different stuff - just the girls, just the boys, the boys with Jamie, a few of the boys alone, the whole group, etc etc. I don't remember what the music was at all - in fact I forgot it the moment the number ended - but the ensemble itself was fun, light-hearted, and a nice way to cap the show. I also felt like there were some distinctively Brian Orser touches to the choreography. Brian did a wonderful job with the choreography of the show overall - major kudos to him for putting together a real opening, a real closing, and one doozie of a central group number.

The show ended with the skaters taking their bows to "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and skating quickly around the ice waving to the crowd before leaving the ice. Overall this was just a fun, great show for the holiday season, with great skating, a nice showcase for local talent, and some awesome numbers from the skaters. Very well worth watching, and it's a real shame it's not televised.